Apple picking

At least 30 local farmers have tested positive for coronavirus on an apple orchard in Ontario.

It comes four months after National Security Minister Stuart Young warned farmers who were seeking an exemption to leave the country to go to Canada, that the COVID-19 virus was spreading rapidly there.

One of the T&T nationals is said to be at hospital in a serious condition.

The farmers, who are based at the Martin Family Fruit Farm, said they have no regrets, however, as the programme accounts for most of their annual income.

News of their infection was carried on CTV News Kitchener, where reporter Krista Sharp said that according to the Medical Officer of Southwestern Public Health, the spread could have been mitigated.

“We believe there has been a lapse in compliance with the public health measures that has resulted in the 40 cases,” said Dr Joyce Lock to CTV News.

One T&T national on the farm expressed disappointment with the way the managers of the farm handled the situation.

“It has over 20 fellas staying in one bunkhouse, so the positive guys from that bunkhouse would be taken into quarantine but the other guys who were suppose to go into quarantine as well would be left to interact with the general population and would have to go to the farm to work,” one farmer told Guardian Media over the phone.

The farmer said the farm’s management told them that they were already exposed to the positive cases so they may as well go out to work. He said they were afraid that some of the negative cases may be asymptomatic and can still spread the virus.

“And the rest of results are still pending, so while results come in, they are just coming on the field and taking COVID-19 positive farmers to quarantine when they would have already been interacting and working with everyone else,” the farmer said.

The apple-picking programme allows local farmers to work in Canada for eight months every year, accounting for the majority of their annual income.

The farmer said if they go public with their complaints then they run the risk of losing out on next year’s contract.

“We are essential workers, we want to live happily in providing for our families. It is better to sacrifice going to Canada to do honest work instead of doing crime. We heavily depend on this as some come home with up to CAD$10,000 sometimes even more and during the year we send home money for our families,” the farmer said via text message.

The company’s president, Kevin Martin told CTV News Kitchener that he was under the impression that a return to work was allowed and is working closely with public health officials.

The workers’ contracts come to an end this month and they told Guardian Media that their exemption application to return is pending approval.

They said despite what was said by Minister Young, they are receiving free healthcare in Canada.